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style + fashion

the art of getting dressed.

kimono life

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

there are many things i do not understand about japan.  scrunchies are a thing, the man purses, the extreme measures taken to avoid the sun, the entire kawaii culture, the hilarious antics that go on at our gym...particularly the horse riding machine and the machine that just shakes you around (and these are the machines that are always PACKED)....but one thing i do understand...are kimonos.

upon even that idea that i'd be visiting Jao in Japan, let alone moving here to live with him...one of my initial thoughts was...OMG kimono.  ever since reading Memoirs of a Geisha when i was very young, i've been obsessed with the art that is kimono.  it's so intricate, so involved....there is such an art to putting it on and wearing it.  there is no style or ritual of dressing in western culture that is even close to the art of kimono. it is honestly a skill i never thought i'd acquire but i'd hoped to at least experience wearing a kimono at least once.  

well, now i am a resident of Japan and my upper closet is EXPLODING with kimono and kimono accessories.

it was only a short few weeks upon my arrival here that i started throwing small fits about how i wanted to go shopping for my kimono.  i'd begun seeing women around Tokyo in their kimono and i get really creepy and i stare at them (i still do...i cannot help it, i stare at everyone wearing a kimono)...i'm obsessed with studying their obi-tying skills, how they walk in their kimono, looking at all the accessories..so.... we finally went off to Daimaru, one of Tokyo's mega department stores.  i found the one, and it was an incredible experience.  some of the best service i've ever experienced, even though neither of us could communicate to each other.



this woman hooked me up with every piece i needed, right down to the zori sandals and tabi (the split toe socks).  i even bought a book about how to tie my obi on my own.  my first obi i bought is a nagoya obi...it's a little easier to tie.  i studied that book for seriously hours (despite it being in japanese, the pictures were great and the DVD that it came with was super helpful)...and finally, i was able to tie my obi on my own.  clumsily at first, but nonetheless..i did it.....

my first kimono outing was to our cousin Bank's wedding to his beautiful Japanese bride, Yoko.  they had the SICKEST traditional Shinto wedding in Osaka, and it is very common for women to wear kimono to a wedding, so this was my chance!!!  i got up super early to get dressed and i did a pretty decent job!!!
it wasn't perfect, but for a white girl tying her first obi, it wasn't bad!  

we went off to Kyoto a few months later and i was able to wear it again...this time my obi tying skills were improved, and i had two new accessories...hair pins and a fan!  the kimono is all about the accessories.... the obiage (the silk scarft around the top of the obi, mine is lavender silk), the obijime (the silk cord that wraps around the obi...mine is red), the hair pins, the fans, etc.  all of these accessories actually serve a purpose in the kimono...the obiage and obijime serve functions in tying the obi...but nonetheless, it's all about expressing yourself in the colors and patterns of these things....




my obi tying skills in Kyoto were FAR improved...massively.  i felt more confident tying it and also putting the kimono itself on.  and Jao looks very handsome :-) he even bought me that fan to help complete my look!

shortly thereafter, my obsession hit a fever pitch, and i found a website that sells beautiful secondhand kimono from Japan.  i found a gorgeous coral silk kimono with white embroidery along the hem...and snatched it up immediately.  i haven't had the chance to wear it yet...but we are going to the sumo tournament next month and i can't wait to debut it!  i also found an incredible second hand fukuro obi, which is larger and more complex to tie...but i've studied, watched videos, and done my homework...and i'm confident i can do it.  it's going to be an incredible look for sumo.

now, kimono require many, many layers and they are very heavy and warm.  highly inappropriate for the scorching summer heat of Tokyo...but that's where the yukata comes in!  the yukata is a kimono that is made of cotton, not silk or heavy fabrics, and no layers are worn underneath.  the obi is smaller, lighter, and the obi knots are more fun and playful.  girls traditionally wear the yukata to go to hanabi, which are the fireworks festivals!  last weekend, we went to check out the hanabi in Mejijingue Mae, near Harajuku, and i got to bust out my brand new yukata!!!  as you can see, the knot is more like a bow...much less formal and much more FUN!



the yukata is definitely more informal, and tends to be more fun and colorful than your traditional kimono....but still offers the same great perks like...i can shove things into my obi for storage :-)

now there are many little things about kimono that one must consider when buying them.  many pictures you see of young japanese women in kimono, they are all incredibly bright, colorful and usually floral...and they usually have very long sleeves.  these are called Homongi and/or Furisode kimono...both of which are indicative of a woman being unmarried.  married women are expected to wear more subdued colors and patterns, and the sleeves are shorter...like mine are above.  Jao and I were not set to marry when i bought my first kimono, but we both knew it was inevitable so a kimono style that is appropriate for a married woman was the right choice.  my navy blue kimono worn above is called a Iro-Muji kimono, and my newer one (not pictured)...the coral collared silk one is an Iro-tomosode kimono, which are considered very formal kimono for married women.  and then even though my yukata is colorful with flowers...compared to most girls' yukata..it is quite toned down...and my obi is more subtle...not bright or flashy.  

see what i mean?  so many rules to know about wearing kimono!  but the best part about all of my kimono wearing for me is that i get to wear them in real life situations.  i'm not a tourist who tries one on and runs around for a day in it maybe...i get to live real life in my kimonos....weddings, firework ceremonies, going to temple in Kyoto, going to sumo matches... and i've had the opportunity to learn how to really put it on myself and tie the obis myself..and learn several obi knots.  i've genuinely learned the art of kimono.  i'm not a master, but i'm learning more every day... 

it's the coolest thing, you guys.  the coolest.